Academic journal article Air Power History

General Short and the Politics of Kosovo's Air War

Academic journal article Air Power History

General Short and the Politics of Kosovo's Air War

Article excerpt

Sir, I'd have gone for the head of the snake on the first night. I'd have turned the lights out the first night. I'd have dropped the bridges across the Danube. I'd have hit five or six political-military head quarters in downtown Belgrade. Milosevic and his cronies would have waked [sic] up the first morning asking what the hell was going on.

Lt. Gen. Michael Short, USAF NATO Commander, Air Forces Southern Europe

Immaculate Coercion

During 1999, in a seventy-eight day air campaign fought with limited support from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) compelled the Serbian military to withdraw from Kosovo. From the very beginning, Lt. Gen. Mike Short, USAF, NATO's Air Component Commander for "Operation Allied Force," wanted to attack Serbia's leadership. Later, before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, he would testify that NATO should have turned out Belgrade's lights on the first night, dropped the bridges across the Danube River, and attacked the "head of the snake." (1) Instead, the alliance implemented a carefully orchestrated aerial campaign designed to send diplomatic messages to Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic. At the time, noted the Washington Post, the Clinton administration believed that a "whiff of gunpowder, just the threat of force, would make [Milosevic] back down." (2) All Slobodan really needed were "some hits to justify his acquiescence," and then, he would sign t he Rambouillet Peace Accords. (3)

The air campaign, therefore, began not as a war, but as a "coercive diplomacy" operation, in which there was a sprinkling of anemic air strikes. Few officials in Washington believed that these opening salvos would actually lead to a war, and certainly, noted one scholar, "none of the NATO leaders had any intention of waging one. (4) But time proved these suppositions wrong. Once underway, the conflict expanded in duration, intensity, and travesty Although there were no allied casualties, hundreds of lives were lost and thousands of Kosovar Albanians were forced into exile.

The administration's assurance that Milosevic would quickly yield affected the initial air strategy. Moreover, the conflict began by relying on plans that were the products of desires, rather than on the realities of situation. In Clausewitzian terms, these war judgments were alien to the conflict's "true nature." (5)

An example of these miscalculations was the case of the missing U.S. naval carrier. Prior to the war, the USS Enterprise was sailing in the Mediterranean Sea. Then, ten days before the opening attacks on Serbia, Washington sent the Enterprise to the Persian Gulf as a deterrent against Saddam Hussein. Consequently, when the Kosovo air war began, there was no carrier available to provide NATO with additional aerial support. (6)

A few days later, plans for sending a follow-on carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, to the Persian Gulf were cancelled and instead it was ordered into the Adriatic Sea. (7) Thus, ten days after the start of "Operation Allied Force," the Roosevelt arrived on station. (8) The missing carrier, noted Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR), caused a problem in readiness that had to be made up with "land-based aircraft." (9) Because Washington failed to "test the kind of war on which they were embarking," and because the initial war effort was viewed as a coercive diplomacy exercise, a carrier was not required. (10)

According to General Clark, the Clinton administration overlooked the seriousness of the initial Kosovo crisis, and the missing carrier was an indication of that tendency. (11) Basically, at the expense of Kosovo, noted SACEUR, Washington was "obsessively oriented on fighting hypothetical conflicts in two other theaters." (12) At one point, he forcefully pleaded his case to Washington. …

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